Orange marigold petals spatter like drops of sunshine on the pavement. The smell of warm bread, empanadas, and fresh citrus fills homes. People gather with candles, music, flowers, and picnics to remember the dead in cemeteries. This is the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Every year around Halloween I start to miss the colors, food, traditions, music, and sentiment of this day.
I grew up in Los Angeles in a state where there are more Spanish speakers than English speakers. Every year around Halloween I start to miss the colors, food, traditions, music, and sentiment of this day. I often reminisce about my last year of teaching in California when an altar filled with marigolds, bread, skulls, and photographs and messages to loved ones lost took up half the auditorium. It’s a beautiful holiday filled with warmth and nostalgia.
My daughter is seven, old enough to understand what death, tradition, culture, and holidays are now. This year it was fun to share some of the traditions from Dia de Los Muertos with her. I don’t want her to fear death, and I want her to understand the importance of remembering loved ones who have died. This is holiday helps foster both sentiments.
Here are some ways to learn more about Dia de Los Muertos and to partake in some of the traditions in your home or classroom:
1. Learn more about Dia de Los Muertos.
I read the book Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter to my daughter. It’s perfect for young children ages 4-8 and covers all of the traditions in beautiful prose and illustrations. You can also learn more about this holiday in this short film.
2. Create an altar of remembrance for relatives and loved ones who have died.
Fill it with candles, notes of remembrance, marigolds, photographs, and other decorations.
3. Visit the cemetery.
Scatter marigolds and place candles on the graves of loved ones. Share bread together and stories of loved ones lost. Sing their favorite songs. Laugh and remember them.
4. Participate with others.
If you live in a town where people celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, join in the festivities. If you don’t, create your traditions with friends and family.
5. Make traditional papel picado streamers to hang in your classroom or home.
Make paper marigolds and flowers. You can find a video on how to make papel picado here. You can find a video on how to make tissue paper flowers here.
Feliz Dia de Los Muertos, mis amigos! Happy Day of the Dead, my friends!
+ From NPR: Día De Los Muertos: Alt.Latino’s Sonic Altar